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Julia Mamaea was a cultured Roman noblewoman (180-235 CE) and mother of Emperor Alexander Severus. As her son’s imperial consort she was an important advisor and her likeness appeared on coins and on a dozen or so marble busts that survive.
During a visit to a New York museum, James Welling came across a partially destroyed bust of Julia Mamaea which stood out from the surrounding figures for its naturalistic portrayal of the subject. Welling made a digital photograph the sculpture from which he then created a series of hand-crafted photographs using his own invented method, cobbled together from collotype and lithography instruction manuals. Made with aniline dyes and gelatin of different-variables, the resulting images transform the extraordinary naturalism of the sculpture, producing a slightly changed and sometimes radically changed expression on Julia’s face. Though produced from the same negative, every printed iteration of the photograph suggests a different emotional state, gender, temporal era or race. Moving between representation and abstraction, the work both utilises and undermines photography’s capacity for mimesis.
Accompanying essays from Carol Squiers, writer and curator at the International Center of Photography in New York, and Emily Apter, Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University.
28.5 x 34 cm
€45 £40 $50
Publication date: June 2020